Covid Mythbuster! Dr. Todd Wolynn Takes on Anti-Vaxxers with Science, Singing and a Dose of Silly
For the past six months, Dr. Todd Wolynn and his co-worker Chad Hermann have been fighting false information about the COVID-19 vaccine online to encourage their followers to get vaccinated
Todd Wolynn isn't your typical doctor — he's also a social media star leading the fight against misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
In between seeing patients at his office in Pittsburgh, the pediatrician ducks into his office, peels off his gloves, mounts his phone on a makeshift tripod and films creative TikTok videos for his 24,200 followers about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Even before the shot was available, Wolynn, who's been in the business of medicine for 26 years, was willing to do almost anything to support the science of vaccinations.
He's donned a crown and robe for a Hamilton-inspired tune about the flu shot ("Flu Be Back"), starred in a series of dance-off videos in support of children's health and dressed up as "Vaxx-Man" for one of his weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions.
"I started taking singing lessons over a year ago," Wolynn, 55, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I want people to have accurate information about vaccines, and if singing and dancing helps get it out there, I'm thrilled."
Recently Wolynn upped his game, testing out his crooning skills in a TikTok video he posted in March in which he performed a sea chantey about COVID ("Vaccinate sooner than soon/Work to get us all immune").
"My wife would argue about my dancing ability, but if we can answer questions in a fun format, I don't mind," Wolynn says.
For the past six months, Wolynn and his partner Chad Hermann, the communications director at Wolynn's family practice, Kids Plus Pediatrics, have been fighting false information about the vaccine online, quelling fears and answering questions about the virus to encourage Wolynn's followers to get vaccinated.
In 2018, the pair, known locally as "Vaxx-Man and Robin" (thanks to local TV station NBC LX), launched Shots Heard Round the World, a nonprofit with an international network of more than 1,400 medical professionals, politicians and other vaccine advocates who create educational content about COVID-19 vaccines and respond to harmful rumors surrounding the shot online.
"We never could have imagined how important this work would become in 2020," Hermann, 52, tells PEOPLE. The nonprofit has nearly 27,000 online followers across all of its platforms.
For more on the duo's vaccine advocacy, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
Though the duo — who have been working together for 12 years — is inspired by their shared belief in vaccine science, their true motivation for dispelling myths about the COVID-19 shot hits closer to home: their kids.
"You're never more vulnerable as a parent than when your child is sick," Hermann, who shares sons Adam, 27, and Ethan, 21 with his wife Wendy, says. "Vaccines protect children … every second we spend doing this work is to help families like ours."
Wolynn and his wife Jacqueline have three kids: Riley, 20, and twins Zack and Aidan, both 17. "When I became a doctor, I took a pledge to do no harm," Wolynn says. "But I see harm done every day when kids don't get vaccinated and contract a serious illness like COVID-19 or die."
In Pittsburgh, the impact of Vaxx-Man and Robin's work can be seen in real time: 71 percent of their 13-year-old patients have received the HPV vaccine, compared with 15.8 percent nationally. Those vaccination numbers have only increased throughout the pandemic, at a time when many families have fallen behind on their vaccine schedules, according to Physician Computer Company, a software firm that tracks such data.
Kids Plus Pediatrics' messaging, Wolynn adds, has helped them build trust with their patients, because they're family doctors who are deeply involved in the local community.
"One patient's mom told us that we were her most trusted source of updates throughout the pandemic, especially on vaccines," Hermann notes. Their Facebook page is flooded with comments from grateful parents praising the office's informative videos and status updates about the vaccine.
Kids Plus Pediatrics started vaccinating patients and parents in May. The practice recently opened its vaccine clinics to younger patients aged 12-15 per CDC guidelines and has received "nonstop" appointment requests from parents hoping to get their children vaccinated, Hermann adds.
"The fight's not over," says Wolynn, who plans to expand the nonprofit's efforts to get as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as possible. "We're going to continue this important work to defeat the pandemic."